(First published in Norwegian 05 Mar 2007)
By Pia Gaarder
First week of March, Brazil’s Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomas Bastos, made his decision known: after having considered the case for three months beyond the deadline, the Minister has sent the whole matter of expansion of the Indian tribes’ territory back to the Directorate for Indian Affairs, FUNAI. The Minister thereby overruled the Directorate’s conclusion that Aracruz illegally owns 11,009 hectares of the Indians’ original territory and that the area must as soon as possible be transferred to the Tupinikim and Guarani Indians. He also overruled the Ministry of Justice’s legal department, which also supported FUNAI’s conclusions.
Aracruz Celulose, which is partly owned by the Norwegian king’s brother-in-law, Erling Lorentzen, can thereby heave a sigh of relief. Now new possibilities for a compromise have been opened. In practice, this means both that Aracruz has gained time and that the company, sometime in the future, will not have to give up such large areas of land as the Directorate of Indian Affairs had drawn up.
Norwatch has followed the land conflict between Aracruz and the Indian tribes Tupinikim and Guarani for a number of years. Towards the end of 2004 the Indians again took up the fight to get back their original territory, and on 17 May 2005 they launched a campaign and occupied parts of Aracruz’s eucalyptus plantations. The strife culminated in January 2006, when the police, with the help of rubber bullets, submachine guns, and helicopters, put a dramatic end to the Indians’ occupation.
Exceeded the Deadline
Brazil’s government had exceeded by many months the law-imposed deadline set for decisions in demarcation questions that concern indigenous populations’ land rights. The Minister of Justice himself had in several direct meetings given the Indians full support and promised to honour their land demands. But that turns out to be easier said than done.
It was on 12 September 2006 that the Directorate for Indian Affairs, FUNAI, sent to the Minister of Justice its definite recommendation to transfer the controversial 11,008 hectares to the Indians by means of a decree.
Today the largest part of the property formally belongs to Aracruz Celulose. The cellulose giant already owns 400,000 hectares in Brazil. In other words, the conflict concerns 2.7% of the company’s land. FUNAI had then carried out new land surveys, gone through the whole long-lasting land conflict again, and discussed Aracruz’s counter-arguments.
Strong Economic Power
It is still unknown what grounds the Minister of Justice has used to arrive at the conclusion that FUNAI must find a compromise that satisfies the interests of both parties.
Norwatch has earlier written that the cellulose industry is one of the biggest lobbyists in Brazil and that Aracruz Celulose is generous in donating funds to politicians of all stripes. The election campaign this past autumn was no exception (see more here).
The case has in addition been awkward for the government. The cellulose industry constitutes an important export business for Brazil. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first government supported the controversial plan to increase the investment in eucalyptus. The national forestry plan entails that the extent of the eucalyptus plantations in Brazil will be increased from 5 to 7 million hectares – that is, by 40%.